To read The Monster in Your Closet just once is to become a fan. Deborah Bryan‘s words are something different: smooth like a drink of water just when you need it, raw and honest, dirt and bones types of lessons that you know you need to hear. She is fun and serious, spiritual and silly. Quite simply she’s gah-ooood, y’all.
I had the pleasure of writing for Deborah’s FTIAT Series last year, an amazing collection of gratitude she shared across the blogisphere. It makes my heart happy to share her Tiny Spark today, a look at a priceless gift given when it’s needed most.
She is finally at peace.
From the moment I read those words in a text message, I knew they were true. My mom would never know the pain of abuse, mental illness or physical illness ever again.
My mom was at peace, but I was not. I saw the totality of her losses as part of a balance sheet abysmally lacking in positives. I thought of that balance sheet in passing as my siblings and I prepared for our mom’s burial and memorial, and as we made a concerted effort to look for the positives in her life so we could better communicate them to others.
With tasks to perform and my siblings nearby to perform them with me, I got by. Then I got on the plane back to Los Angeles, and it hit me:
Next time I returned to Oregon, it would be to a town absent my mom.
My childhood home was no longer home, but simply the house in which I’d grown up.
I would land in L.A. an orphan.
My mom was really gone.
I was distraught. Inconsolable. I felt acutely my isolation from my siblings and the places I once shared with them and my mom. Daily, I sobbed my way through two hours of drive time.
A week after I returned to L.A., I got an email from a woman named Shannon. She had found my email address from my mom’s online obituary and wanted to know if I remembered her. Thrilled, I immediately responded that she was one of the few people I did remember from my early childhood. I didn’t remember how she looked, nor how she sounded, but I remembered the feeling of her. Even saying her name aloud to myself, I remembered how my mom had spoken her name through laughter. With her, my mom had been safe, and I had been safe, too.
Shannon and I exchanged a few emails before she fell silent. Although her silence saddened me, I was grateful she’d broken the silence however briefly, for with her emails she had given me a couple of irreplaceable gifts.
One was tangible. She had sent along a few pictures of me and my siblings in our childhood days. Since my mom had destroyed almost all of our family photos in the throes of mental illness, each of the pictures Shannon sent was a piece of family history regained.
Her other gift was no less valuable for being intangible. By reaching out to me and evoking memories of safety and laughter otherwise lost to me, I was able to feel my mom as she existed before loss and illness slowly shaped her into not-Mom.
The feeling was not the one of crushing loss I associated with her later life, but one filled with the wordless joy of unconditional love, laughter and silliness, hope and aspiration, and tears of conspiracy instead of suffering.
Thanks to Shannon, memory of not-Mom was coupled with the warm memory of Mom. It was but a glimmer of light, and yet that glimmer kindled my understanding there would be more to come.
As I revisited Shannon’s photos frequently in the month following my mom’s death, I saw how easily twenty years could disappear in the face of loving memory. I was a thousand miles from my siblings, and years removed from the mom that had once—with her dear friend Shannon—made a livelihood from other people’s garbage, but I was eternally close to them as well. Neither distance in time nor distance in space were nearly as important as I’d thought when I’d boarded the airplane back to L.A.
When Shannon reached out to me, she bridged past and present, bringing to me a piece of my mom I’d lost. While she reached out to me as herself and for herself, I couldn’t help but hear my mom’s voice in her words, too.
It was if my mom herself held me in her arms and whispered, “This is how I want you to remember me. This is who I was. Not illness. Not loss. This.
“You can’t reach me by phone anymore, but I will always be your mother, and I will always be here with you.
“Just like this.”
What is a memory that’s helped you cope during hard times?
Upcoming Tiny Spark:
Monday, January 7th